Politics makes strange bedfellows, but stranger still may be the partnerships made at the crossroads of politics, profit, and history. Welcome to the next round of the casino drama, in which MGM has teamed up with the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation in yet another bid to keep Connecticut casinos away from Springfield.
Sure, this whole mess is largely about slicing up what’s left of the casino pie here in southern New England. But there’s another side to this that’s about the ways in which the Bureau of Indian Affairs grants federal recognition to Native American tribes, and how Connecticut has constantly stood in the way of making that process easier.
So it’s not just about a soulless casino company trying to outmaneuver its rivals. It’s also, in part, about long-overdue justice.
This particular drama goes back a long way. The Schaghticokes are an amalgamation of members of many different tribes, including the Pequot, the Tunxis, and others, who were fleeing colonists in the 1600s. The tribe was granted a 2,500 acre reservation by the Connecticut Colony in 1736, but much of that land was sold off by the state without tribal consent, leaving the Schaghticokes with only about 400 acres today.
The tribe filed a petition for federal recognition in 1994, which, along with a petition by the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation in eastern Connecticut, was approved in 2004. State leaders pushed back as hard as they could.
Then-Sen. Joe Lieberman testified against recognition, saying, “If the Eastern Pequot and Schaghticoke recognition decisions are upheld, local residents will have to bear the economic and social costs associated with the prospect of two new casinos that will forever change their quality of life.”
Basically, they wanted to ensure that the Schaghticokes didn’t press inconvenient land claims or build a casino. The BIA played along. Recognition was withdrawn in 2005 — the first time federal recognition of a tribe had ever been reversed.
The Schaghticokes, or at least the group calling itself the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, have been trying to reverse the ruling ever since. In 2015, the BIA made up some suspiciously convenient new rules saying that any tribe that has had its petition for recognition rejected couldn’t apply again, and that basing recognition solely on having a state reservation would no longer do the trick.